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Volvo OR: Dates, Courses and Class(es) - Part 2

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 11 Jun 22:29 PDT 12 June 2018
The plan is to have a Volvo version of the IMOCA60 that will fit within the IMCOA class box rule © Rick Tomlinson


For Part 1 of this two-part story click here

The next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race will be in 2021.

“Timing-wise it is quite obvious,” explains Johan Salen, one of the three new owners of the Volvo Ocean Race as he ticks off one of the three critical decisions that have to be made early in the timeline for the next race.

“2019 is too tight for the teams to regroup and prepare," he says walking through the options. "As well we have to go through the host city procurement process.

“None of the sponsors wants to do it again in 2019 either. It is too tight for the Olympic sailors with their preparation. With 2020 it is a head-on collision with the America's Cup and Vendee Globe. Again, 2020 would also be much more difficult for the Olympic sailors to be involved.”

“It all falls quite naturally into place in 2021.”

The month of the start is still to be determined. Salen says it could be September or October 2021, depending on the route.

“This year when we left Lisbon it was November,” he notes. “When we go into the Southern Ocean is an important consideration. We may be able to shorten the route a little as well. But whether the start month is September or October, at this stage is not important. The year 2021 is the main thing.”

Another point which seems certain is that the 15th edition won’t be sailed two years, as Mark Turner had planned, after the next or 14th Volvo Ocean Race.

“Every two years becomes too intense. I think it is more likely to stay on a three or four-year cycle. But having said that we will probably be more active with small events in between Volvo Races.”

One of the issues with recent editions of the Volvo Ocean Race has been the sponsor churn. But this time four of the teams are backed by returning sponsors - Brunel, Vestas, Dongfeng and MAPFRE.

As usual, the feedback from the major sponsors at this stage of the race is quoted as being very positive. The real test is how many return for a second event. With almost a 60% of the 2014/15 sponsors returning for the 2017/18 edition, maybe there is not too much wrong with the basics of the current event. The supplier companies almost all come back for more.

That's a point that needs to be factored into future race changes and thinking.

Too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater and the consensus approach to change, while slower is probably the approach that will yield the best outcome.

“The feeling has been very good,” says Salen. “This edition has been very intense, and it is very hard on people during stopover time with a lot of hard racing miles followed by a short, very intensive stop.

“People haven’t been able to recover as much as they should have.”

“This is probably not the right time to talk to the sailors and teams about the Race future,” Salen says. “As far as we know everyone is keen to carry on. That doesn't mean they have the money to do it yet, but they are very keen to continue as teams in the future - and that feels very good.”

“Generally the vibe from the sponsors is quite good. It is very different in each case.

“The feeling with the major ones is very good. The main sponsors are happy and keen to discuss a continuation.”

Discussion begins in earnest in Gothenburg

Having just blasted across the Atlantic and with a three-way slugfest at the top of the leaderboard, the long-term discussion in Cardiff is a little muted. But at the next stopover in Gothenburg, Volvo’s hometown, they will be very active, says Salen.

Another checkbox is whether the race will continue to be hosted in Spain. But that’s one of the easy decisions.

“The plan is for the race to continue to be based in Alicante. It works very well for us,” Salen explains. “We have a very nice office there, and for the staff, it is very good. People in the organisation like to live there and I don't see any reason to change that.”

Atlant, the event management company headed by Salen as co-President, Richard Brisius (President) and Jan Litborn, will look to make small alterations to the race course. The track currently sitting at 13 stops, 45,000nm and five Equator crossings - a big stretch from the four stop, a 27,500nm course of the inaugural Whitbread Round the Race in 1973-74.

Salen says it is still early days for the course and stopover specifics. “In broad terms, it is important to stay with tradition and not deviate from history. If anything the course will simplified. In this edition of the race, we have 13 stops in 13 locations - which is a lot and very demanding from many points of view.”

“Maybe we will have fewer stopovers and maybe some more "air" in the schedule than is the case now. But otherwise, I don't see any major or radical changes to the route.”


Asia vital part of future

Most race fans would see the China stopover chopped out of the program eliminating a double Equator crossing and two long and trying legs.

Salen disagrees.

“I think that it is going to be very important to go into Asia in some way, it may not be for everyone. But for a lot of sponsors, the importance of Asia is not going to go away. Asia is becoming more and more important to sponsors.

“I think that one of the criteria will be that Asia will stay in the course. But hopefully, it can be done in a simpler way than this time. But we definitely have to go there.”

Ultimately the decision to go to Asia is a sponsor, rather than sailor driven call.

The course eraser will probably be used on re-shaping the European legs.

Currently, the 13 city race stops/starts at five locations in Europe. “We have several stops in Europe. Maybe that can be reduced. We will be going back to basics if anything,” he adds.

Expect the Southern Ocean legs to remain in place. “It is important to keep the Southern Ocean element – it is a key part of the course and the history.”


Key immediate questions

Salen says there are three critical questions which Atlant has to decide.

“The key decisions at the moment to give the teams something to take forward to their sponsors - a broad outline of the route; what events we could organise in between and before 2021; and the choice of boats.”

“Those are the three areas where we want to have clarity very soon. We have a lot of good people in the teams and organisation, so we are holding a lot of meetings and debriefs underway with all those key stakeholders.”

“A lot is not clear, so it is important that we get clarity soon. There are other questions as well, of course, but timewise those are the most critical.”

“We haven't made final decisions yet, and that process is ongoing ”, he adds.

Transition by consensus?

Atlant is having to tread a delicate transition path – ensuring that the current race which hangs on a knife-edge gets the global attention that the three-way finishing battle deserves.

At the same time, the new owner has to take as many players as possible from the current edition into the new.

“It is best if we have a consensus,” says Salen. “But that is not always possible. And when it is not possible as a last resort, we have to make a decision.”

“That is the process we have ongoing now. Even if we can't agree, we can at least understand if there is another view. It is a bit of a process and it does take time but it is interesting, and I think in the end it will give the best result going forward.”

The multiplicity of stakeholders is an issue inherent in the discussion process. One of those which has yet to start is the city procurement process. But before that can start the new route has to be determined.

“It is no secret that we are in discussion with the IMOCA class. There are a lot of parallel processes happening depending on whether it is team related, or city related, or general strategy for the event as such. We have a leadership team within the organisation where we coordinate these discussions.”

“This is a very busy period for the Volvo Ocean race and there are plenty of things to do,” he adds pointing out what might not be obvious to many.”

Volvo OR and the IMOCA60

The discussion and decisions with the IMOCA sit outside the direct control of Atlant, Volvo and the parties associated with the class and its events. The approach “if we go down that route” will be to put a small committee in place with some representatives of the IMOCA60 class.

A key discussion will be on how to adapt the class to suit crewed sailing, which will, in turn, trigger a change in the IMOCA class rules if Atlant and IMOCA can reach an agreement.

“The key thing is to implement the changes in the right way – covering crew numbers, safety and technical issues around the rigs or the type of foiling. There are a lot of technical questions that need to be resolved.”

“The potential is there to make those boats work really well for crewed racing. But it's not in place yet.”

Another issue related to the use of short-crewed IMOCA60’s is to capitalise on the success of the On Board Reporters in the current edition of the race.

“I think it has all worked really well,’ Salen says of the OBR’s in the current race.

“The work that has been done with the OBR's and the content they have been able to produce for social media and other sources has been excellent.”

“The Youth element and Female quota has all been very positive and needs to continue in one way or another. We will make decisions on the Youth and female quotas later on in the year. Time-wise they are not the most critical ones.”

Back to the here and now, Salen stresses that the most immediate opportunity for the success of future Volvo Races is that “the current race finishes in a good way and we have proper time to debrief and get feedback from different stakeholders. We then have a discussion based on that feedback and debriefings and then make decisions based on more information than we have at the moment.”

It all sounds like a very complicated feedback loop but retaining as many teams, sailors, sponsors, race management and ports, means a lot less spadework to transition through into the 2021 edition and a new look Volvo Ocean Race.

“It is very nice for us to be in this position and be able to work constructively for the future. Also to have this race near complete and be where we are today. It has been a bit frustrating at times, but now that we are here it feels very good.”

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